The question is: has God rejected his chosen people?
The answer is: No! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. And God hasn’t rejected his people, those he chose from the beginning. Remember what the Scriptures say in the passage about Elijah, when he appealed to God against Israel, saying: “Lord, they’ve killed your prophets and pulled down your altars. Now I’m the only one left – and they’re trying to kill me too!”
And what was God’s reply? “I’ve kept for myself seven thousand who haven’t worshipped Baal.”
In the same way, even now, there’s a remnant of the Israelites who’ve been chosen by grace. And if the choice is by grace, it can’t be by works, otherwise grace wouldn’t be grace!
What are we to conclude, then?
The Israelites, who were looking for God’s favour so fervently, have failed to find it. Yes, a few who’d been chosen did find, but the majority were hardened, as has been noted: “God gave them up to a spirit of sleepiness – eyes that couldn’t see and ears that couldn’t hear – to this very day.”
Similarly, David said: “May their table become a snare and a trap to them, a hazard and a punishment for them. May their eyes be darken so they cannot see, and may their backs be bent forever.”
But have these people fallen beyond recovery?
No, of course not! Their failure meant that the opportunity of rescue was made available to the Gentiles, and this should have made the Israelites envious. Now if the Israelites’ failure brought riches to the Gentiles, what greater riches would their inclusion bring?
I’m speaking now to you Gentiles. Because I’m an apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry. I want to make my own people envious of what you have and thus save some of them. If their rejection meant that reconciliation was brought to the rest of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? And if the part of the dough that’s offered as first-fruits is holy, the remainder will also be holy.
If the root of the tree is holy, the branches will also be holy.
Some of the branches have been broken off and you, though shoots from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. Now you also share in the nourishing sap from the root of the tree. Don’t consider yourself superior to those other branches. Realise that you don’t support the root: the root supports you. Don’t say, “Branches were broken off so I could be grafted in.” They were broken off because of unbelief, and you only stand by faith. So don’t be arrogant, but tremble. If God didn’t spare the original branches, he won’t spare you either.
See how God is both kind and severe. He’s severe towards those who fall, but kind to you, so long as you continue in his kindness. But if you don’t continue, you’ll also be cut off. And if the Israelites turn from their unbelief, they’ll also be grafted in, because God can do that. If you, who were cut from a wild olive tree and (contrary to nature) were grafted onto a cultivated olive tree, how much more easily can the original branches be grafted onto the original tree.
I’d like you understand a mystery, dear friends, so that you won’t feel too proud of yourselves: the Israelites’ hearts have been hardened to a certain extent, but it’s only until the full number of Gentiles have come in. And so all Israel will be saved. That’s why it’s written: The rescuer will come from Jerusalem; he’ll turn Jacob away from his godlessness. This, then, will be my covenant with the people, when I take away their sins.”
At the moment, the Israelites are enemies of the gospel – and this works to your advantage – but they’re still the chosen people, loved because of their faithful ancestors. And God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable. So, just as you once were rebellious but have now received mercy, they too are rebellious but can receive mercy as a result of the mercy that came to you. For God has permitted everyone to rebel, so that he can also show mercy to everyone!
Oh, how great are the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways are past finding out! Who can ever know the thoughts of the Lord? Or who give him any advice? Who can give him anything that he needs to give back? For from him and through him for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.